Sunday, 20 February 2011

Wario Land 3: Game Design Review

Before I begin, I stated in my previous review that Wario Land 2 was probably one of the best handheld action platformers ever marred only by some very slight gameplay issues. Each level was closely crafted to provide challenge, there was relatively minimal backtracking and each level could be finished in a relatively short amount of time (taking no more than 10 minutes) making it easy to pick up and play. Perfect for on-the-go travel.

Playing Wario Land 3 which was technically larger, bigger I was surprised to find that Wario Land 3 suffers from poor game level design. Make no mistake. Wario Land 3 is still a good game but the number of gameplay annoyances that cause it fall a significant step behind Wario Land 2.

Primarily the problem is the game designers seemed to have this mind set that more is better. Unfortunately this means plenty of pointless attractions. Here are the major ones I see.
1) The golf games - These are are pointless distractions and exist only to frustrate the player. In this mini game, rather than aiming and carefully selecting your power, you have a slider that moves along the bar for both aiming and power which you have to stop by pressing the A button.

This makes the game not only a measure of skill but also huge luck as the margin for error is very tiny for both power and aiming. And the golf games aren't just a distraction either, its a crucial part of gameplay as some passages are blocked and require you to win one of these as well. You have to pay 10 coins to play but it's also the only thing you actually need coins. As such I question the reason for even having coins.

2) Misleading gameplay cues in non-linear levels - In many games, such as Metroid or Castlevania, you'll usual end up in a blocked area which will mention you need some special ability or key to unlock. There are usually clear indicators of the what you'll need. Games like Metroid will usually have some symbol which will correspond with the power required

In Wario Land 3 each level has 4 keys and 4 treasure chests each a different colour. The grey key is the first key followed by the red, green and finally blue. Whenever you unlock a treasure chest you complete the level and return to the map. The keys however, can be scattered all over the level and because of the open levels its sometimes not very obvious which route to take until you hit a dead end. Its hard to know whether it is a real dead end or simply because you haven't figured out how to clear the path. As mentioned good game designers would make it obvious the direction you should take , perhaps by creating markers or changing the color of the background to let you know you are taking the "Grey Key and grey treasure chest route" or the Green key or if you're actually missing an ability. Unfortunately this is not the case at all in Wario Land 3. This can be very frustrating and I sometimes found myself wandering around trying to figure out whether I was in the right place or not.

It's interesting to note that they have some fairly obvious signage to let you know what's affected by the day/night cycle the game, which makes me question why they couldn't develop something similar for each level to let you know of the keys is a mystery.

The larger levels also mean you could potentially fall too far off a platform and into another area requiring you to backtrack all the way to where you were to try that tricky jump again. Again, causing needless delays.

Another annoying misleading cue is the musical coins scattered across all levels. There are eight in total per level and there are supposed to be collected after you've unlocked most of all abilities. But the fact that they're there acts merely as a distraction your first time finishing a level. As a player I tried to collect one or two along the way thinking they would be saved when I finished the level. i.e. I collect two now and then I can return to collect the remaining six. To my surprise I discovered that you need to collect all eight and find a special exit before you can successful complete the level. A better way to do this would have been to have the coins only appear after you've unlocked all the chests in a level and unlocked the appropriate abilities and present it as an extra hard challenge for the hardcore gamers.

3) World map requires a great deal of backtracking - As you unlock more treasures in the game world, more of the gameworld is revealed but then you have to go back to previous areas and collect treasures. Now the game does actually have in-game guides, in this case the shadowy figure that provides advice and the world map locations that sparkle to let you know which areas to visit next.

Following this advice will ensure that you are suitably equipped to handle whatever the game throws at you. You'll end up with slightly over 50% of the items collected when you finish the game giving you motivation to explore previous areas.

For example, the game will tell you you have to visit a tower and a city which are in different parts of the map and the order you have to visit them in. E.g. Tower first followed by city. Again, I don't see why this couldn't be more linear and as stated above, a simple level selector would have sufficed rather than the confusing world map where levels are scattered all over the place.

Rather than going with the 'open world gameplay concept' Why not structure the game so that the main levels are obvious and every now and then there will be optional levels unlocked whenever you get new powers like so many other action games? This ensures you're channeling the player experience while ensuring every single level they start or treasure they attempt to unlock will be 'winnable' but also giving them the option to skip the optional missions.

Wario Land 3 is still playable but rather than the tight perfection that we got with Wario Land we get something more bloated. It’s still very fun and has the same platforming and invincibility mechanisms which Wario Land 2 had. Having it in an open world might seem like a good idea but sometimes it backfires like in this game.

Still recommended but just not quite the classic Wario Land 2 is from design and usability perspective.